In response to our letter and petition handed in that day to CEO Peter Voser, we were invited back to meet with a company representative in order to discuss some of the issues we raised. Consequently, on Friday 20th April, Andy Cope (campaigns officer) and Mark Johnson (campaigns petal leader) took up an invitation to meet Barnaby Briggs, Strategic Relations Manager for Shell International. Some of Andy's personal reflections on the are meeting here:
- On the day we arrived a bit early and decided to pop into St John's Waterloo nearby to pray before the meeting. This felt really special - a symbolic connection with the original Day of Action so many of us participated in almost two months previous. (SPEAKers had begun that morning with a service at the same church).
- Located just behind the London Eye and opposite the Houses of Parliament, the view from the Shell Centre 23 stories up is quite something!
- Barnaby Briggs is a really interesting guy. He's also spent some time working for the RSPB, and now as part of his job goes out to visit Nigeria on a regular basis. We spent a lot of time listening to his side of the story - his frustrations with government corruption and inaction, his marvel at the complexity and diversity of the country, and his take on what are effective ways to improve the situation there.
A lot of previous resources SPEAK has used around this particular issue within our Corporate Responsibility campaign have drawn research from the dedicated work of Amnesty International (such as this report). However, it does appear that discussions between Amnesty and Shell have broken down somewhat, so in a way it is a blessing that SPEAK has this opportunity to continue the dialogue approach right now. (Of course some of us might also point out that 'speaking up' can take different forms; that maybe there is a time for dialogue, and there is a time to pursue other forms of campaigning to demonstrate our opposition...)
In response to a question about Shell’s steps in meeting the 2011 UNEP report’s recommendations, he claimed that Shell’s hands were tied, because they had to wait for the government to act first. (One of the recommendations for oil industry operators is financially contributing to a $1bn 'Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland'). He said that Shell were generally supportive of the document (they funded it - make of that what you will), and were ready to make precise commitments as soon as the Nigerian government said what it wanted. (In the meantime he also acknowledged the current situation was unacceptable and claimed short-term solutions have been implemented, such as the provision of large amounts of clean water to affected communities, the drilling of deeper wells, etc.) We put it to him that it was rather a conflict of interests that the Nigerian government were expected to be regulators, yet owned a 55% stake; he said that this was a common set-up for oil industries around the globe. He also came out against UNEP’s criticism of the RENA approach (see p.145 of the report), saying that Shell believed the procedure genuinely did work in achieving clean-up levels that met ‘international standards’.
On the subject of gas flaring, we noted that two days ago Shell had announced a recent 20% reduction in gas flaring and thanked Barnaby for this. However, were there plans to actually ever cease this wasteful, harmful practice? Barnaby answered that Shell were aiming to reduce the amount of gas flared to 'below the global average', though could not state when this might happen. Secondly, he emphatically claimed that Shell had scientific evidence (yet unpublished) that gas flaring, though wasteful and 'unsightly', actually had no adverse health effects. This contradicts outright the anecdotal evidence we received from Ruth when she spoke to us at Soundcheck back in February - and clearly needs more investigation.
As for what Shell were trying to do to help developmentally, he said that they were struggling for answers, but were still trying. Currently Shell puts up $70m for Nigerian social development projects, although he thought this was actually the wrong strategy (so much funding was ‘attracting the wrong sort of people’, and exacerbating the problems). He was proud of aiding things like local hairdressing salons, however. The main initiative Barnaby championed was a ‘community energy project’, currently under construction through the Living Earth Foundation (an NGO he boasted a long-term relationship with). This would be a local refinery for natural gas that would provide power for a small community – preventing gas flaring, providing electricity (‘everybody wins’). He said it was a pilot project and would be waiting to see how successful it would be, and also voiced (probably very legitimate) concerns over 'developmental aid' creating dependence and prompting some people seeing Shell as the government through its provision of services.
- Overall, Barnaby stressed that the issue of environmental management with regards to the oil industry in the Niger Delta was highly complex and multi-faceted – pointing especially to Nigeria's levels of economic poverty, its diverse demographics, the high daily bunkering and illegal refining of oil, the low public awareness of the dangers of such practices, plus how socioeconomic inequalities can lead to unexpected consequences (one example he gave was of how Shell had paid a local contract to clean-up a spill around a village, hosted a party to celebrate that evening, then woke up the next morning to tragically find oil there again. People had thought that there was more money for them in doing the clean-up business). His line on the whole was that there was of course room for Shell to do more (particularly once the government had given the go-ahead), but they were certainly trying and they were certainly not the only culprits (or only ones responsible for the restoration) in this mess.
- Give thanks that Barnaby and his assistant Sally gave their time to listen and engage with us, and for all the positive work that their team does through Shell's corporate responsibility department.
- It is now almost 9 months since the UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland was published, but there has still been no formal response from the Nigerian Government. Since it was them that originally commissioned the report, and since Shell aren't going to take concrete action until the government respond, let's be praying that there is progress in this area very soon!
- The Shell AGM is coming up on May 22nd. Pray that shareholders will raise this pressing issue of restoring God's creation in the Niger Delta, as well as the ceasing of gas flaring.
- Leigh Day & Co solicitors are currently pursuing a case through the UK courts against Shell on behalf of the people of Bodo. Let's pray for a just outcome and thank God that such a law firm exists for the cause of 'David vs Goliath' justice.
- 69,000 people were immediately affected by the two major 2008 oil spills in Bodo alone...not to mention those affected by many other episodes of pollution that still occur frequently, those harmed by gas flaring, etc. Pray for those victims today (including members of SPEAK Nigeria!) - for their comfort, their healing, and their ultimate joy in God's Kingdom.
- After several years of recording signatures, in February we submitted our Unfinished Business campaign mp3 petition as part of the CoRe coalition calling for a UK Commission on Business, Human Rights and the Environment. But it is never too late to lobby your MP on this issue! Information is on our website, for a briefing paper to pop in the envelope just get in touch [see below].
- Despite the Nigerian government's inaction, more pressure on Shell to take this seriously can only be a good thing. If you haven't already signed this Amnesty petition, please do it now and aim to get another 10 friends to do so!
- Stay tuned for a potential lobby action of the Nigerian government in the near future...
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Speak up for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy".
The UNEP report can be found here.
See this facebook note on our page for more background information about the story so far.
SPEAK like to be as transparent as possible! If you'd like to ask more questions about the meeting, or the corporate responsibility campaign in general, then please email andy: firstname.lastname@example.org